Book Review: Nolyn (The Rise and Fall, #1) by Michael J. Sullivan
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated by Marc Simonetti
Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Rise and Fall (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 480 pages (Hardcover edition)
Published: 3rd August 2021 by Grim Oak Press (Self-published)
Nolyn was an engaging military fantasy and murder mystery novel in the world of Elan. But this is not designed for newcomers to the world of Elan.
“An empty house is a lonely place, an oversized coffin with furniture and windows.”
Here I am. Back again in the world of Elan. I’ve read all the available Riyria books so far, and last year, I finished reading all six books in the Legends of the First Empire series. This means Nolyn, the first book in The Rise and Fall trilogy, is the 17th novel in the world of Elan by Michael J. Sullivan I read. I think it is safe to say Sullivan’s works in the world of Elan feel like comfort food to me, especially if we are talking about The Riyria books and Age of War. Although I was slightly disappointed with Age of Death and Age of Empyre, I still gave both of them a 4 stars rating. And I can’t dispute that Nolyn was a highly captivating start to a new trilogy that works as a re-entry into the world of Elan. But as usual, because this is the fourth main series in Elan, let’s answer the question, can you read this without reading the other books first? No. Or you shouldn’t.
“This is the exact reason Brin invented writing. She wrote her book to guard against powerful people changing stories of our past to suit their interests.”
I am not a stranger to voicing this; I more often than not distrust authors who say it is okay for readers to start their journey into the world of their series from installment number (insert what you want) or series number (insert whatever you want again). I am not sure why authors insist on this; I get it. Authors need to sell their books. But don’t you want your readers to get the best experience of reading your books? Reading Nolyn without at least reading Legends of the First Empire first would feel like reading A Time of Dread by John Gwynne without reading The Faithful and the Fallen first. Or Iron Gold without reading the first three books in Red Rising Saga. This is not the same situation as The Riyria books to Legends of the First Empire, and even with those two, I still would highly recommend reading The Riyria books first. My rule of thumb is this, read every book in the same world of a series by publication order, and it never backfires on me.
“Centuries had taught her not to rely on anyone for something she could do herself. Most people were frustratingly incapable, giving up at the first sign of difficulty.”
Here’s the thing. Nolyn is the name of the main character in this book, and he is the son of two pivotal characters in Legends of the First Empire. The same goes for Sephryn as well. This is not like how Legends of the First Empire tells the truth behind the misguided history and religions told in The Riyria books. In a way, Nolyn almost works like a direct sequel after the end of Age of Empyre. Some parts that left me dissatisfied about Age of Empyre was how almost all the main characters did not feel like they got the proper satisfying ending they deserved. Some final scenes were purposefully left out because they are considered unnecessary, even though many readers have voiced their concerns over the lack of closure. So although Nolyn is supposedly a new standalone story in the world of Elan, almost all the main characters in the novel have major relation to the characters in Legends of the First Empire. Some of their backgrounds were established in the Legends of the First Empire, too. And some of the ending scenes I wanted that did not happen in Age of Empyre actually transpired here! It is so difficult to call Nolyn a totally standalone novel, and I am honestly confused why Sullivan deems it that way. I get it. Authors have to sell books. But personally speaking, calling this 17th book in the world of Elan a great starting point for new readers dipping into the world is a big mistake. I bet you this. I haven’t read Farilane yet, but I am willing to bet Sullivan mentioned it’s okay to read Farilane without reading any books in the world of Elan yet, including Nolyn. Good luck trying to know just how important and significant the Book of Brin is, to name one out of MANY things.
“Everyone has to pay, but heroes— I think, they have a higher price than everyone else. And maybe they never erase their debts.”
Of course, technically, you can read this without reading Legends of the First Empire first. But it will be like eating meat or a dish without any seasonings. I saw some readers who have not finished Legends of the First Empire giving this book 2-3 stars, and honestly, I am not surprised by this. If I were in their shoes, I would, too. There was so much important and crucial background information missing. More importantly, without reading Legends of the First Empire first, all the impactful subtleties that hold emotional impact would be lost on readers. And these are the best part of Nolyn! Robin Sullivan said at the end of Age of Empyre, closure scenes were left out because readers knew what would happen already. This is not completely true. We had an idea, but we do not 100% know until we see the scenes unfold. And this is proven here in Nolyn. Let’s put it this way. If we follow this logic and then you read Nolyn without reading Legends of the First Empire first, this book spoils pretty much tons of pivotal moments in Legends of the First Empire. Does that mean there is no more need to read the six books in Legends of the First Empire if we read Nolyn first? I have chatted with both Michael and Robin on my YouTube channel, but as a reader and reviewer, this is a notion I disagree with. Because of this logic, the main characters in Legends of the First Empire did not get the satisfying ending scenes they deserved. But grievances aside, fortunately, I finally got some of what I wanted from the ending of Age of Empyre here. Not all the main characters of Legends of the First Empire received the closure yet, but some of the main characters did, and I assume I will get more in Farilane.
“Something I’ve learned about people, both human and Fhrey, is that they hate having long-held beliefs challenged by facts, even about stupid things. Once you get something settled in your head, it becomes comfortable and difficult to dislodge… No one likes to admit they’re wrong, even if they are just agreeing with something someone else told them.”
As you can probably guess, if you’ve read Legends of the First Empire, Nolyn takes place more than 800 years after the end of Age of Empyre, and I am confident readers of Sullivan’s books will have a great time reading this one. There were many Easter Eggs and nods dedicated toward the characters of Legends of the First Empire, and some hints regarding what’s to come in The Riyria books. One out of many examples: the three swords battle skill wielded by Amicus. Some might not care about all the Easter Eggs, but to me, the Easter Eggs are the best parts of Nolyn. Seeing how the true legends and history told in Legends of the First Empire gradually transform into something different than what actually happened was incredible. And unlike Sullivan’s usual writing, Nolyn was a mix of military fantasy and murder mystery; it still retains the accessibly engaging prose and relatable themes such as leadership, parenthood, found family, courage, and death that are often found in his storytelling.
“Never since have I felt as alive or as free. And you can only do that when you’re young, unattached, unfettered, and unencumbered by the truths that come later— the weight that anchors you to the ground. Only the carefree can fly. That was my gift to you, a youth well lived.”
I had a blast reading Nolyn. It was great to find out the fate of some of the main characters in Legends of the First Empire, and the character development given to Nolyn and Sephyn were superbly done. Even though all the revelations behind the murder mystery were incredibly predictable, it did not turn me away from the captivating narrative. One of the main villains from Legends of the First Empire is here to bring chaos, and as a result, the last 150 pages of this book turned into a non-stop action sequence full of twists and turns. I am so looking forward to reading the second book in The Rise and Fall trilogy: Farilane.
“Those years had always been poisoned by the belief that his father had sentenced him to war as punishment for crimes he never committed. A blanket of resentment had smothered the joy out of every achievement, every friendship, every starry night spent on a ledge observing the glory of the world. Fear, misery, death, loss, and regret had scarred him, but he had also known beauty, kindness, love, and wonder. The lows were deep, but the highs dizzying.”
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